As we now prepare to gavel in an election year session of the Legislature, one thing is glaringly obvious. The Mississippi Democratic Party, as an institution, in my estimation is in real trouble.
Let’s look at some of the datapoints.
First, the party headquarters is in shambles. Sam Hall, Keelan Sanders and Terry Cassreino have all left the party for greener pastures in the private sector in the last election cycle. The party essentially has no spokesperson whatsoever. Neither the site’s blog nor press page has been updated since June 2010. This lack of organization on the messaging side translates to untold lost amounts of earned media both in traditional media and particularly online. And lately, when “the party” does speak, it’s poorly organized.
Even the most faithful of the party like Senator David Baria are open and publicly questioning the party apparatus. On Sid Salter’s show he said, “The Democratic Party is in trouble in Mississippi and we’ve got to get better organization and better leadership.”
The party leader, Jamie Franks, remains embroiled in a nasty lawsuit of his own design involving his ex-wife and a Lee County Schools Superintendent. We’ve not seen the end of this and it will likely unfold through the primary season.
In the last election, Mississippi went from having 3 Democrat US Representatives to 1.
Seven of eight statewide elected officials are Republicans. Attorney General Jim Hood (D) will have a serious contender in the form of Steve Simpson. As of now, there are no Democrats announced or even seriously rumored as candidates for Lt. Governor, which still remains the most powerful position in state government (on paper). Democrats do have two real gubernatorial candidates in Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree and Clarksdale businessman Bill Luckett, but the winner of that primary still faces long odds against Phil Bryant or Dave Dennis.
Republicans are arguably within about 8 seats of legitimately electing a Republican Speaker in the Mississippi House. That’s enough to legitimately flip at the ballot box. And with redistricting on the table, you can count on the fact that Democrats will try to make blue districts “bluer” and try to concentrate their strength in safe districts versus putting more Republican districts “in play”.
Speaking of the House, its Democratic leadership is in real doubt. Very public comments about Speaker Billy McCoy coming from Steve Holland and John Mayo about his future as speaker as well as an all-but-open leadership challenge by Rep. Bobby Moak puts the last bastion of Democratic party power in the state very much in doubt for 2011. There are also some rumblings under the Capitol dome that the Legislative Black Caucus (LBC) might run its own candidate for Speaker fracturing the Democratic party under the dome even further.
Elected officials at the legislative, county and even statewide levels have been defecting to the Republican party in droves. The Democrat party line in Mississippi is to bad-mouth former members after they leave saying, in essence, “they never were a good Democrat to begin with”. It’s gotten so bad that Rep. Bob Evans has pre-filed HB 179 for this session which would make a party switch by a sitting elected official tantamount to a resignation.
When you add all of this up, it equals to the darkest days that the Democratic Party has had in Mississippi in modern history. Party politics is about “blocking and tackling”. It’s about candidate recruitment and building resources. Money to the party has dried up almost entirely. Even veteran elected officials are looking at an increasingly energized statewide Republican party and wondering if they can win on a general election ticket as Democrats. The Mississippi Democratic Party is a like a punchdrunk fighter out on its feet.
If the party goes into 2011 in their current configuration, I believe that they will lose the Mississippi House and literally dozens of local and county wide offices across the state. The questions are (1) what can Jamie Franks do to right the ship and (2) is he the guy to do it?